Even in my later years I was finding this out. I was playing in Munich in my mid-30s and we were coasting, and then I gave away a stupid handball on the edge of the area and they scored from the free-kick. Five minutes later they scored again and we lost a game we’d been comfortable in. Even in your mid-30s they still catch you out. You think of that Bayern Munich team we beat to win the Treble in 1999, it was one of the most experienced teams that has played in European competition, yet their world collapsed in three minutes.
It’s an underachievement when you get to three finals in four years, then don’t get past the group stage, but these are great experiences for the young lads. I wouldn’t be surprised if the manager picks a lot of them again against Bilbao, because they need the experience and also because the Premier League has to be the priority. The manager may think that we may as well go to school in Europe all year and let the lads learn on the job.
The only way you learn European football is by playing games and getting to the point where you start to absorb lessons. The manager knows he’s got talented young players who are going to be with the club for a number of years, and I think that this year has almost been a step back to go forwards in Europe. You get the fruits of your labour eventually and these lads have huge talent, but for now it’s all learning and getting experience.
This column first appeared in United Review, the club's official matchday programme. Subscriptions available from www.manutd.com/programme .